During the summer of 2019, a browser-based Super Mario Bros. game with a competitive twist took the gaming world by storm. The humble project got big enough to catch Nintendo’s attention, and within days, the fan game got hit with a copyright strike — a tale as old as time. Except now, a year later, Nintendo is coming out with the same general idea.
Mario Royale was originally conceived by YouTuber InfernoPlus, who spent weeks rigging together an experience where 75 players could duke it out while playing the side-scrolling classic. What made Mario Royale compelling was that players could, theoretically, mess each other’s games up through things like power-ups such as invincibility stars. Fans controlling their overall-wearing clone couldn’t interact with each other directly, but there was still plenty of opportunity for mayhem. Millions of people watched playthroughs of Mario Royale on YouTube, and undoubtedly a good number of them tried it out, too.
But then Nintendo took note — InfernoPlus was, after all, using its famous character. Soon, InfernoPlus found himself patching the game into something that he renamed DMCA Royale, which had the same functionality but with a different aesthetic.
Fast forward to September 2020, when Nintendo announced a variety of games to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. One of the offerings included something that might look mighty familiar to anyone who experienced InfernoPlus’ short-lived experiment. Like Mario Royale, the upcoming Super Mario Bros. 35 will let a few dozen people play through a level at the same time. And like the fan game, players can’t attack others directly — instead, defeated enemies will go on to plague other combatants.
According to InfernoPlus, who spoke to Polygon via email, Nintendo did not consult him before making Super Mario Bros. 35. So the announcement came as a surprise to him.
“My first reaction was ‘Oh wow, should have seen that coming,’” he said.
While the initial takedown of the fan game wasn’t a surprise, at the time, InfernoPlus theorized that it happened because Super Mario Maker 2 was coming out soon, but now he’s looking at those events a little differently.
“It’s honestly really funny that some nonsense joke idea I came up with ended up being yoinked by a giant corporation like Nintendo,” he said. “They must be really out of ideas over there.”
While Nintendo has always been aggressive about fan games no matter what form they take, some features within those games are later adopted by the Japanese company itself. Super Mario Maker uses many ideas that were initially pioneered by ROM hackers who built and distributed their own “kaizo” levels, at least before Nintendo started going after them. Mario Royale is just the latest free and accessible fan game that got taken down in favor of an official paid product, and it likely won’t be the last.